Mario Talarico is an eighty-two year old craftsman who represents the fourth generation in his family to make handcrafted umbrellas. Down a small cobblestone alley in Naples’ Spanish Quarter, you’ll find Talarico working from an old wooden bench, surrounded by gnarled sticks, metal ribs, and beautiful sheets of fabrics.
These are what he uses to make some of the most beautiful umbrellas in the world. The sticks form the “backbone” of each umbrella, and their woods are chosen for their specific qualities.
Ribbed Whangee and old-growth Malacca, two beautiful choices for umbrella handles, are valued for their fine textures and subtle mottling. Eastern Ash is heavy, but has a shimmering green grain when the bark has been left on. Canadian Hickory is a robust wood that’s often used to make baseball bats, and Tuscan Hazel is a handsome material with a golden sheen.
At the end of each of these sticks is an oxhorn cap, which protects the wood from being marred by the ground. Just below that sit eight or ten metal ribs, which are used to hold the canopy. Talarico sources these from Germany, as that’s where he believes they are best made. His nephew (also named Mario Talarico) took great pride in showing me how these ribs never invert, even as he whipped an umbrella through the air.
Finally, there are of course the canopies, which come in solid colored, striped, or dotted twills. Some of these are conservatively patterned, some fun, but all are very tasteful. At one side of the canopy is an iridescent mother-of-pearl button, upon which a metal ring and fastening band will hook on, in order to secure the canopy when it’s furled.
There are few companies that make umbrellas like these anymore. Most are cheaply produced in China, even if they carry fancy brand names. Of the ones that still make umbrellas with this kind of artisanal quality, a few are located in London, a couple in Japan, and one is in this small alleyway in the Spanish Quarter of Naples.